LGBT community empowered by television characters

Ria Parikh | Staff Writer

Modern television is playing a role in the increasing confidence of the young LGBT community.

Recently, fictional characters in TV who are part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community have been given storylines that run deeper than them being a static symbol of LGBT representation just to reach an audience. Seeing a more wholesome portrayal of their community empowers LGBT viewers by increasing their confidence about their acceptance and integration into society.

Senior and Gay Straight Alliance leader Lauren Beaudry said the deeper storyline written for a lesbian character in ‘Degrassi: Next Class’ made her feel more secure with her past, even though it was questioned by friends and family.

“Some of my friends and people I knew were like ‘She can’t be gay, she used to have boyfriends,’ and that struck me because I had dated a lot of guys (before realizing my sexuality),” Beaudry said. “But I don’t think that people realize that you can be LGBT and still have a past with the opposite gender. People use their past as a way to justify not being who they say they are and I think it’s really toxic to have that mindset. I thought that show busted it a little bit.”

Beaudry said seeing LGBT characters in TV that have rich storylines and impact the plot empowers her because it shows her that members of the LGBT community are active within the story rather than just a symbol of their demographic.

“It’s really empowering,” Beaudry said. “You can relate to them and they don’t just seem like they’re objects used as what is called ‘queer-baiting’ (when LGBT characters are included just to reach an audience). I think it’s really nice when there’s a character that’s actually involved in the show or the movie and they participate, and they’re active characters. They’re not just their sexuality.”

Junior Mitchell Bilo said a richer plotline for LGBT characters shows people afraid to come out that in most cases, coming out of the closet is not as big of a deal as they are making it out to be in their heads.

“I think it shows people, especially those in the closet, that life goes on after you come out of the closet,” Bilo said. “It shows that life goes on, and that the world continues to spin. I’m not saying that there aren’t kids who live in a toxic household and in a toxic friend group that wouldn’t support them, but I feel like the vast majority of people are very accepting.”

Freshman Jamie Shaul said seeing shows that give LGBT characters strong storylines offers support to LGBT community members who are insecure about themselves.

“They have more character,” Shaul said. “And I feel like it helps support them. I know a lot of kids that are scared to be who they are. Seeing all of these LGBT characters in different shows gives them some confidence and gives them something to be supported by.”

Shaul said the examples portrayed in TV and film show people that they see their sexuality as only a part of who they are.

“It shows people that being in the LGBT community is not just what defines us,” Shaul said. “There are a bunch of different things that define who we are.”

Often times, Beaudry said the LGBT community assumed to be a representation of a political belief or idea, and the fact that TV and films stray away from attaching strong political beliefs to their LGBT characters gives Beaudry confidence that members in her community are starting to viewed as people rather than political figures.

“When people talk about LGBT, they usually talk about politics, and that can be harmful to the community,” Beaudry said. “Everyone is grouped into a specific group, and everyone assumes that they lean to one side and have the same opinions, when in reality, it’s good to see that we’re normal people. We’re not here to always shove our political agenda in everyone’s face.”

Bilo said characters like Titus Andromedon in ‘The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ remind LGBT community members that other people still value who they are as people over the sexuality they identify with. While Titus, unlike some of the aforementioned characters does indeed fall under the ‘stereotypical gay person’ archetype, Bilo said his storyline extends beyond that and characters’ interactions with him go beyond discussions of and references to his sexuality.

“No one judges Titus for his sexuality, they judge him for being extra,” Bilo said. “I feel like those are two misconstrued things, your sexuality and who you are as a person. Your sexuality is part of who you are as a person, but it could also be you being nice, you being mean, you being manipulative, you being caring. It all mixes together, and that’s what it shows with Titus.”

Right now, Bilo said, the film industry has done a good job of empowering the LGBT community by including them in more substantial storylines, but he fears that if they keep pushing for empowerment, the industry will take it to another extreme by artificiating their portrayal.

“The LGBT community has reached a point of acceptance in society that where we’ve gotten is great, we’re at a place where we need to stop,” Bilo said. “In film, it’s fine, but I’m scared film’s going to take it to the next level of society. I scared that TV is going to go too far, but I’m happy where they’re at.”

For young people, or new members of the LGBT community, Bilo said shows that portray LGBT characters as more than their sexuality will empower them by showing them that they can live normal lives and be normal people and that their sexuality will not stop them from doing whatever they want to do.

“It shows the upcoming generation that it’s okay to be who you are,” Bilo said. “And that’s what being shown with these high-profile shows like ‘Scandal’, ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’, and how these all include (LGBT) people. It shows (LGBT community members) that there is more to them than that: they can still have normal friends, go to family gatherings and not be judged.”